Foster care is full-time substitute care of children outside their own home by people other than their biological or adoptive parents or legal guardians.
Children who are removed from their biological or adoptive parents, or other legal guardians, are placed in foster care in a variety of settings. They may be placed in the care of relatives other than the family members involved in the neglect or abuse (kin placement), non-relatives, therapeutic or treatment foster care, or in an institution or group home.
Children come to foster care for a number of reasons. In many cases, they have suffered physical or sexual abuse, or neglect at home, and are placed in a safe environment. A small percentage of children are in foster care because their parents feel unable to control them, and their behavior may have led to delinquency or fear of harm to others. Some children have been neglected by their parents or legal guardians, or have parents or legal guardians who are unable to take care of them because of substance abuse, incarceration, or mental health problems. These children are placed into custodial care while the parents or guardians receive treatment or counseling, or fulfill their sentences.
In all foster care cases, the child's biological or adoptive parents, or other legal guardians, temporarily give up legal custody of the child. (The guardian gives up custody, but not necessarily legal guardianship.) A child may be placed in foster care with the parents' consent. In a clear case of abuse or neglect, a court can order a child into foster care without the parents' or guardians' consent. Foster care does not necessarily mean care by strangers. If a government agency decides a child must be removed from the home, the child may be placed with relatives or with a family friend. Children may also be placed in a group home, where several foster children live together with a staff of caregivers. Therapeutic or treatment foster care can be in a group home or foster home with a specific structure and treatment focus. Foster homes are the most well-known option. The child temporarily becomes a part of another family, either with other foster children, the family's biological or adoptive children, or alone. State or county social service agencies oversee foster care decisions, although they may also work with private foundations.
Foster parents must be licensed by the agency that handles a specific region's foster care. The foster home must pass an inspection for health and safety and, in most states, the parents must attend training sessions covering issues of
x how to deal with problems. When a child is placed, the foster family takes responsibility for feeding and clothing the child, getting the child to school and to appointments, and doing any of the usual things a child's parents or legal guardians might be called to do. The foster parents might also need to meet with the foster child's therapist and will meet regularly with the child's caseworker as well. The foster parent aims to help the foster child develop normally in a safe, family environment.
Foster parents usually receive money for taking in foster children. They are expected to use the money to buy the child's food, clothing, school supplies, and other incidentals. Most of the foster parent's responsibilities toward the foster child are clearly defined in a legal contract. Foster parents do not become the guardians of foster children; legal guardianship remains with the state agency.
Foster placements may last for a single day or several weeks; some continue for years. If the parents give up their rights permanently, or their rights to their child are severed by the court, the foster family may adopt the foster child or the child may be placed for adoption by strangers. Foster parenting is meant to be an in-between stage, while a permanent placement for the child is settled. As such, it is stressful and uncertain, but for many families very necessary.
Federal money supports most foster care programs, and federal law governs foster care policy. The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Reform Act of 1980 emphasizes two aims of foster care. One is to preserve the child's family, if at all possible. Children are placed in foster care only after other options have failed, and social service agencies work with the family to resolve its problems so that children can return to their homes. The second aim of the Child Welfare Reform Act is to support the so-called "permanency planning." This means that if a child must be removed from the home, the social service agency handling the case can decide quickly whether or not the child will ever be returned. If it seems likely that parents will not be able to care for their children again, their parental rights may be terminated so that the child is free to be adopted. This policy is articulated in this law in order to prevent children from living too long in an unstable and uncertain situation.
The goal of foster care is the care of the child within the child welfare system, but also is to place all appropriate and available services at the disposal of the parents so that they can create a safe, fit home environment for their children when they are reunited. Children in the child welfare system are also overseen by a multitude of agencies. The caseworker from the state or county social services agency oversees the child's placement and makes regular reports to the court. Others involved in the child's case are private service providers (including foster homes and group homes), welfare agencies, mental health counselors, substance abuse treatment centers (for the child or the parent), and Medicaid (federal medical insurance for seniors and children at risk).
Janie Franz, A. Woodward, Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit,